Breaking Down the Telehealth Patient Experience
This article about the telehealth patient experience was written by Sean Goynes, PT, DPT, Clinic Director, PT Solutions Physical Therapy
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of medical care. People are cutting down on the number of hospital and clinic visits they make. Many facilities are limiting the number of patients scheduled per day. Some locations even stopped ‘voluntary’ procedures and appointments. In-person medical care is an important resource for many patients, but is it the only option?
The answer is no. Telehealth for medical care of all kinds is also on the table.
What is Telehealth?
Put simply, telehealth services give patients a chance to be seen and advised by medical professionals from the comfort of their own homes. This choice gives patients the chance to use a virtual platform to connect with their medical care providers when it is most convenient for them. This service has a number of important features including the following.
Benefits of the Telehealth Experience
- Puts patient and practitioner safety first
- Allows for one-on-one care and consultation
- Provides flexibility with scheduling
- Gives patients hassle-free access to care
- Doesn’t require anything but a device that connects to the Internet and a high-speed Internet connection
- Allows family members near and far to be part of the visit “virtually” in order to help assist in the plan of care
There’s much more to it, but the basic idea of telehealth services is that utilizing them allows for comfort, care, and compassion for patients in an entirely new way. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted, telehealth is poised to remain a new and viable solution for thousands.
To better understand the telehealth patient experience, take a look at the video showcasing one patient in particular named Nancy as she discusses her experience working with Sean Goynes, PT, DPT from PT Solutions Physical Therapy using the BetterTelehealth platform. Read on to find out answers to some of the most important questions.
Patient and Practitioner Reactions to the Telehealth Patient Experience
According to Dr. Goynes, he’s personally used telehealth to treat conditions that include:
- Joint replacement
- Lower back pain
- Plantar fasciitis
- Shoulder dysfunction
Since this is a relatively new implementation for many physical therapy clinics and providers, this list is bound to grow over time. These conditions – and those similar to them – no longer need to be seen in person to be treated effectively.
Setting Expectations for Telehealth
Although it’s a different experience, telehealth users and providers still have specific expectations for the process.
For Nancy, though she’d had physical therapy appointments in the past, she didn’t know what to expect from telehealth. After having a total knee replacement in Chicago, her visit was unexpectedly cut short by the discovery of COVID-19 in her hotel. This meant she needed a new solution for continued care and she didn’t feel comfortable seeking treatment in the office.
After a failed attempt at in-home therapy sessions, Nancy reached out to Dr. Goynes. Their consultation started with setting expectations. Nancy and Dr. Goynes discussed her challenges and established goals for treatment.
Though Nancy’s situation is unique – she had a lot of exercise equipment in her home – Dr. Goynes says that this isn’t necessary to be successful.
The most important factor for success with telehealth visits is clear and open communication between patients and practitioners. Nancy reiterated that even though Dr. Goynes had his own set of expectations for her progress, it was up to her to make that progress. She knew she couldn’t make excuses and had to do what was necessary to improve her health, strength, and range of motion.
Making the Telehealth Patient Experience Successful
All physical therapy programs start with an initial functional assessment. For patients engaged in a telehealth visit, this assessment is virtual. Luckily for Nancy, and thousands of other patients like her, physical therapists are getting creative when it comes to selecting exercises for them to complete at home.
Dr. Goynes’ assessment of Nancy included visual estimates as well as functional testing for range of motion (ROM) and strength. Samples of these are:
- Climbing stairs
- Lifting household items (a gallon of milk or water)
- Visual assessment of capability
Accommodations were made to account for Nancy being at home and Dr. Goynes in office, but neither person felt that it had a negative impact in any way on the outcome of treatment.
Tracking Progress Via Virtual Visits
Since in-person office visits weren’t possible for Nancy, progress was tracked in a variety of ways. In the beginning, when Nancy was less independent, her husband monitored her progress using a special band that recorded results. These results were sent to Dr. Goynes.
As she gained strength and became more capable, Nancy’s range of motion progress improved, as did her ability to complete more exercises and everyday tasks. Just like with in-person visits, telehealth services are monitored so that changes are tracked.
In this case, Nancy’s expectations were altered as she progressed. When her strength and mobility returned, the focus shifted to functional activities meant to test her. Dr. Goynes and Nancy identified general household activities as her daily “exercises.” There was still an expectation that she would work hard to complete them, but adapting to meet Nancy’s environment was necessary.
How Patients and Physical Therapists Ensure Success From Telehealth Visits
When it comes to physical therapy, success is measured in the progress patients make with their abilities. For every injury or recovery plan, this progress is different. However, that doesn’t mean that the methods used to achieve success are different.
Nancy felt that her experience with Dr. Goynes was ideal in many ways. She felt supported by the contact she had with him. She found the one-on-one attention he gave more “personal” than she’d received from other in-person therapy sessions. Without interruptions, telehealth sessions allow both patients and practitioners to focus solely on their goals and individual sessions. There are fewer distractions.
Every patient needs something different from physical therapy sessions, but all patients need quality care.
Telehealth allows physical therapists to demonstrate exercises, show posture, and balance strategies, and help patients adapt. In addition to this, some software used features videos, images and simple to follow descriptions of exercises for patient reference. These files are sent via email, meaning that patients can print them or save them for when they need them in the future.
Challenges of a Telehealth Patient Experience
Since many are still learning how to best use telehealth for physical therapy visits, there are some challenges.
Luckily for everyone involved, they’re easy to overcome.
For example, even though Dr. Goynes thought that establishing the right camera angles to properly show exercises and equipment was tricky at first, Nancy didn’t feel the sessions suffered from this. Dr. Goynes also mentioned that in some cases, teaching patients – or staff – to properly use equipment (phone, tablet, camera, computer) caused some delay in the beginning.
Nancy, on the other hand, felt that all of the equipment was simple to use. She didn’t think she experienced any real challenges, and was very pleased with the quality of care she received. Many therapists likely agree, if there are issues, it’s better that they happen on the side of the medical professionals. Why?
Even though it can make sessions more difficult, these challenges are less likely to frustrate or discourage patients.
The Biggest Concern with Telehealth Services
For Dr. Goynes and others like him, the biggest challenge – and concern – with utilizing telehealth is that results won’t be similar to those achieved with hands-on sessions. In Nancy’s case, there was a different outcome. Both of them reported that they felt the program was an overall success.
Nancy’s function and independence improved. There were no serious issues or setbacks. They monitored progress without delay. The strategies of modifying exercises from day to day and session to session were effective. Nancy was able to receive treatment AND feel safe throughout the pandemic.
Nancy is an advocate for the telehealth patient experience, and wouldn’t hesitate to use the services again in the future. The experience was positive, she felt accommodated and supported, and is very happy with her results.
Are you like Nancy and need physical therapy to correct an injury or improve general health? If so, consider scheduling an appointment with PT Solutions or a local physical therapy provider, through the BetterPT clinic location tool. On the go? Download the BetterPT app. Both options put you in contact with physical therapy clinics near you and professionals that are waiting to help you achieve your mobility and functional goals – even if you need to do it via a platform like BetterTelehealth.
Dr. Sean Goynes is the clinic director at PT Solutions in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. He is also in the orthopedic residency program there. Dr. Goynes’ passion for physical therapy started after tearing his ACL playing collegiate lacrosse. His current interests in physical therapy include re-humanizing physical therapy, bringing current evidence to practice, and helping patients with chronic pain achieve their desired level of function.